Shokupan (Japanese Milk Bread) with Autolyse Method

Last part of the Shokupan series, straight-dough with autolyse. What is autolyse? It simply means combining water and flour in the dough and let it sit to fully let the flour to hydrate and let magic happens. Who knew that flour can take a long time to fully absorbs the water when you mix it? I have a post dedicated for explaining what happens during autolyse and what benefits it has. 

If you don't have the time or the patience to use pre-ferment (Poolish method from previous post) or Yudane, but still want the bread to have great texture and more flavor, autolyse is the answer. I would say it is an improved straight dough method with very little extra time and no extra work.
I wasn't planning on making this bread using autolyse method really, as I thought not much can change with this, until I made pizza dough using this method. After just about an hour, it changed the texture of the flour mixture completely and making it stretchy! 

That night, I stayed up very very late, reading everything I could find to learn about it. What happened during the process and what benefits it has, and how. I made my husband listen to my autolyse lecture and preferment talk, diagrams and all, until it was unacceptable time to be awake :). He still made fun of me after and won't stop, but hey, he made me listen to his steam engine and telescope findings ;P.

I let the flour/milk mixture to set for an hour, and the dough after autolyse becomes so much stretchier! A sign that gluten is developing and extensibility is reached!
What I want to find out is, how is the taste and texture different from preferment, yudane, and straight-dough method? Does it make any difference at all in the final result?

What I found out is that the dough with this method takes less kneading time to reach the windowpane test (where you can stretch the dough into thin membrane without tearing it), compared to straight-dough method, though I would say based on my personal experience, the dough with Poolish was faster. 
Bulk fermentation seems to be the same, about 2 hours each proofing time with the same amount of yeast as the yudane and straight-dough method. 

Autolyse is not a substitute for preferment or other methods. In fact, it can be combined with any method! I chose to do it based on the basic straight-dough method because I wanted to be able to observe the difference without the effects of additional method. 

With all of four methods I tried (poolish, yudane, autolyse, and straight dough), the texture on all four of them came out GREAT! Each one of them has long strands, very soft and fluffy too, especially fresh from the oven (fresh bread is the best!). 
The noticeable differences I could find with each method are the flavor and sweetness. I made the autolyse and the straight-dough method right after the other so I could taste them side-by-side. I don't have a sensitive tastebud and would easily forget how the previous one was if I don't compare it directly.

The flavor with this method is improved, better than straight-dough method, but still less complex than preferment method. I used the same amount of sugar in all methods and it is interesting to find that the end result has different sweetness level. Bread with this method tasted sweeter than straight-dough, but still less sweet than preferment and yudane. This agrees with the theory that the enzyme in the flour has more time to break down the sugar in the preferment method, making it sweeter. 

Overall, while this method is to improve the bread's texture, I find them all to be very similar, very soft and fluffy. Flavor is definitely more developed, as well as the increased sweetness level. If you want to make bread faster, but wants to make it better, let the water and flour sit for an hour (given you have the time). Even if you only do it for only 15-30 minutes, the dough still benefits from it. 

No matter which method you choose, this recipe makes a GREAT basic eggless bread recipe. You can make individual buns, dinner rolls, pull-apart bread, cinnamon roll, Japanese milk buns, anything at all! 

Now that the series have ended, I will have a post summarizing the pros and cons of each so you can decide which one to make without having to read all four series.

I used the same recipe as the other method for the sake of comparison. I changed the recipe slightly by increasing the amount of liquid and yeast. The original amount also works great. I increased the sugar a little bit by 50g because we normally eat this as is or as sweet toast. Adjust the sugar accordingly

Shokupan (Autolyse Method)

285g bread flour
180ml milk
20g heavy cream (can be substituted with milk)
15g milk powder (optional)
40g sugar 
2g instant yeast 
30g unsalted butter, room temperature
3g (1/2 tsp) salt
  • Mix the bread flour, milk, and heavy cream in a bowl and mix well with a spoon or hand. Try not to knead it. It will look like a shaggy mass, don't worry to make it smooth. You just want the flour to be wet. Let it sit for an hour, covered, in room temperature. This is the autolyse process. You will notice the dough is now stretchier and more hydrated.
  • Mix the flour/milk mixture with milk powder, sugar and yeast and using stand mixer or bread maker (you can also do this by hand), knead it until it comes together and the dough becomes smooth, about 10 minutes.
  • Add the butter and salt. The dough might looked curdled at first, but continue kneading and it will come together beautifully in a few minutes.
  • Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, and has reached windowpane stage.
  • Take the dough out, form a ball, let it rise in a bowl, covered with plastic wrap or kitchen towel until it has risen 2x original volume 
  • Punch the dough down, knead it slightly, and divide it into portion. I divide mine into three portions, but you can do as many as you want. Make a ball with each dough (rounding), and let it rest on the counter for 15-20 minutes, covered with a kitchen towel. This is called bench rest.
  • Roll each ball and shape it. Put them inside a buttered loaf pan.
  • Let it rise again (2nd proofing) until the dough is slightly below the top of the pan (about 80% tall)
  • Bake it preheated oven at 350F for 25-30 minutes. If the top is too brown before the time ended, cover the top with aluminum foil 10-15 minutes before it is done.
  • Let it sit in the pan for a few minutes before taking it out onto cooling rack.

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